On forgetting where you are

Time fizzles along and days float on by and one day you wake up and it’s April. April! But it was only just yesterday that I was sipping my champagne to bring in the new year, a sparkler glittering in my hand, my brain buzzing at the thought of the coming year and all the new moments to be made, the fresh adventures to be had. And here we are, in April, waking up to bright sunlight glinting off the trees with chocolate bunnies hopping off the horizon and spring flowers bursting out of the ground. I feel as if the past 3 months have been compacted into 1 day and disappeared in the blink of a wintery eye. It took an old man from Northern China sporting a leopard print Adidas t’shirt to jolt me awake to the fact that time is literally flying and there is nothing we can do about it, except enjoy every single moment we have. When I saw him wearing such a funny hipster t’shirt and his wife came running over and grabbed my arm to say hello, I suddenly realised where I am. I am in China. I mean, obviously I’m in China, but really, I AM IN CHINA. Sometimes I actually forget that. I go about my day to day life and I feel so comfortable here, and maybe that is why time is running away from me. I am not waiting for some moment in the future to rescue me from my current situation, or wishing time would hurry up so I could go home. I am just going about my life with more emphasis placed on the now. Lately, however, I may have been a bit guilty of doing this with my eyes half closed because how on earth I could forget that I am in China is beyond me! I don’t mean I blacked out and thought I was in Scotland, I just mean it’s crazy how normal this place is to me now. If you’d told me 6 years ago that I’d feel so OK with living in China, I’d probably have laughed in your face. But here I am, 6 years on, still living in China (OK, I cheated a bit with the occasional break, but still…6 years!!).

Anyway, it got me thinking. Are we really living in the moment and embracing where we are right now? I am so fortunate to not only be experiencing the crazy but cool Chinese culture, but also all the other countries and their vastly different cultures right on China’s doorstep. I’ve mentioned my sneaky wanderlust before, but seriously, why shouldn’t I hop across the border to Hong Kong or Macau or fly 1 hour to my favourite place in Asia- Taiwan? I’m just taking advantage of what is right there in front of me. I now feel though, that it’s time to turn my wandering heart back to where it finds itself, right here in China. I’ve only seen a smidgeon of the places this ginormous country has to offer, and lately I’ve definitely been neglecting both the language and culture, and even the food now that I’m following a vegetarian diet. I’m not sure what the solution is? I get really upset when I meet people who make no effort with the local language of the place they find themselves in, or people who constantly look down on the culture or food. I am still very happy living in China and I know, deep down, that both the language and culture of this country will always be a huge part of my life. I’ve left China twice, and I’ve always come crawling back. But why do I feel like I’ve suddenly become a bit numb to it? Is that what happens when you stay somewhere for so long that it becomes normal, the initial excitement wearing off? Is the honeymoon phase officially over?!

Scotland was normal to me for 19 years of my life, and then I left and now I love it more than ever. It’s the little things such as the fresh air, the way strangers greet each other, the wild ocean lapping on the shore, the mystical skies. And perhaps that’s the solution right there. Not to leave China so that absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that jazz- but yes, short breaks are also essential for rejuvenation in such a chaotic land- but to start treasuring the unique, positive aspects that this land is known for. The way old people dance the night away under the light of the moon, while nearby, children frolic and laugh until way past their bedtime, cherishing every inch of outdoor space before they get whisked away to their high rise bedrooms. The abundance of fresh vegetables and fruit on almost every corner, piled high on a tray on the back of someone’s bicycle. The way a country with billions of people works, and the laughter that occasionally results when it doesn’t. The fact that there will be at least one adventure a day, stemming from either a misunderstanding or just the general madness that a ‘China day’ entails. The people, in all their shapes and sizes, smiles and frowns, their fashion and their strong determination. The scent of osmanthus dripping off the trees. A freshly brewed cup of green tea.

And voila, I am now smiling at all the things I love about this country. No day is ever dull here. And if you want to avoid driving yourself crazy or getting sad about the amount of ‘China days’ you keep having, you just need to shift your attitude a bit and laugh it off. In fact you just need to shake it off and embrace it all, yes, even the spitting. No matter where you choose to live, you need to accept both the pros and cons, and quit complaining. If you hate it that much, leave. It’s simple. But, if like me, you actually enjoy the hilarity and curiosity that comes from experiencing such an intensely different culture from your own, make the most of every single moment while it lasts. If you feel like you’re just plodding along, wake yourself up. Go outside and take a walk and remind yourself of where you are and take note of all the little quirks that make the place you are living in so special. Get out of that expat bubble, I promise it’s more fun when you challenge yourself a bit.

I guess that means I better dust off the old Chinese books, rack my brains for that Chinese tongue I used to know so well and get out there and start revelling in everything that this weird and wonderful land has to offer.

Hello China,

Can we hang out again?



 This illustration was done by my talented friend Eva.

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